Monday, December 10, 2012
Medieval Times: Iron Man 150
Iron Man #150 (September 1981)
David Michelinie/Bob Layton-John Romita, Jr./Layton
Doug: So what do you get when you drop two of the 20th century's weapons geniuses into the heart of the Middle Ages? You get a double-sized, double-barreled book full of great art, snappy dialogue and all-around great late-Bronze Age awesomeness, that's what! Let us tarry no longer!
Doug: We begin this tale in the time stream, and I'll say right off that I don't know that I've ever seen time travel drawn in a more scary fashion than what JR JR and Bob Layton give us on the splash page. We could probably have an entire discussion today on what we and our readers think such a "place" would look like; I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have chosen the old DC Comics version that shows concentric circles each labeled as a decade. Duh... But this version might even give ol' Immortus pause! I said last week that I was impressed at how physical this version of Dr. Doom was. If you'll recall, I commented about a panel that showed Vic leaping over the rail of a balcony to land on the floor before. Here he and Iron Man are unceremoniously dumped from limbo onto the turf of 6th Century Briton (although given that the Arthurian legend grew out of 12th Century French literature, the art team seems to have chosen the later period for the costuming). And just as they're about to square off again, Shellhead notes the castle in the background; obviously they "aren't in Kansas anymore"!
Karen: I'm sure depicting time travel is no easy task, but this looked more like some scary dimension Doc Strange would go to -I see tentacles, and little orbs with teeth! Talk about freaky! Doug, I would agree with you about Dr. Doom here: not only is he very physical, he also appears to be bigger than Iron Man. In some scenes, he seems to loom over him.
Doug: It immediately sets in with Iron Man that however they got to wherever they are, it doesn't look positive for getting back to 1981. Doom scoffs, basically telling him they'll worry about it later -- he has other concerns at the moment. Their contentiousness is interrupted, though, by a welcome wagon of fully-armored knights. Iron Man adapts to the situation quickly, bowing in deference. Doom, naturally, isn't bowing to anyone. And when a knight decides he's going to make Doom kneel... you know it's game on! Doom grabs a knight's lance, and darn near electrocutes the poor unsuspecting fella. Iron Man gains separation with a repulsor blast, and sidles over to Doom and strongly encourages the Latverian to go along with all of this -- Doom reluctantly agrees. The acquiescence of the two time travelers seems to pay off, as they are led to the court of... King Arthur!
Karen: Doom, of course, is used to time travel. For Iron Man, it's still quite a shock. He's still trying to wrap his mind around it when the knights arrive. But being as how he has respect for authority (remember, we're not talking the movie Iron Man), he accedes to the knights just as he would modern policemen or military officers. Doom is his usual haughty self. I enjoyed the dialog between the two of them here, as Iron Man gets Doom to grudgingly behave. "You may have a point, lackey. Very well, I agree -for now." "Stop calling me lackey!"
Doug: The creators really do a nice job of giving Arthur a regal air about him. He's drawn tall and straight, and his speech is deliberate and authoritative. It's really a nice bit of characterization as the king asks Iron Man to discuss their intentions. Iron Man tells that he was in conflict with a king named Dr. Doom, and trailed him to Arthur's lands. When Arthur asks him how he will address the charges of black magic, IM admits to have certain special abilities. He then uses the magnetic powers of his armor to levitate Arthur's throne and replace it quite gently. Arthur is amazed, and then turns to Doom. Vic, of course, isn't in any mood for "parlor tricks". Instead, he flashes his bling with the seal of the great state of Latveria, and proclaims himself to be a king. Arthur seems puzzled, and agrees to take their circumstance under advisement overnight.
Karen: I thought it was interesting that Shellhead's demonstration involved 'levitating' Arthur magnetically in his throne. Just two years later, we'd see a similar scene in Return of the Jedi, as Luke Skywalker levitates C-3P0 to get those miserable Ewoks to let them go. But Iron Man did it first!
Doug: That, partner, is a great association; I'd not have come up with that one! Both Iron Man and Doom retire to their quarters. Iron Man has removed his helmet, and is fearful whether or not he'll ever return to his own time. He muses on his skills and how there is no place for him in Camelot. However, when a royal "bedwarmer" knocks at his door, offering her services, he hesitates. Down the hall, Doom broods while sitting in a high-backed chair, regal as always. His thoughts are on his original plan, which was to come to Arthurian times anyway; his aide Hauptmann, however, made it happen sooner. When a concubine enters Doom's quarters, he immediately says that yes -- he can use her. But he immediately hypnotizes the maiden and asks her -- how would he get to the castle of Morgana Le Fey?
Karen: I've sometimes felt like Iron Man/Tony Stark had little personality. But honestly, this scene says a lot about who he is. He's worried about how he, a man whose entire life centers on technology, could fit into this non-technological world. But as soon as a hot chick shows up, that thought (and all others) go out the window. Could you see Cap doing this? Tony's personality might be shallow, but he does have one. Doom's use of the serving girl to further his plans is also typical of Doom. Again, I felt Micheline really understood the character.
Doug: Tony could have gotten a bit more than he bargained for; hot or not, remember that people in the Middle Ages only bathed once a year. They thought that being cold and wet would make one sick; to combat the personal odors... well, that's why the Age of Exploration eventually began. Spices and PERFUMES!! Once equipped with the knowledge he sought, Doom leaves his chambers, assaults the guard in the corridor, and blasts through an outer wall. Using a jet pack, he flies off in search of the witch who might grant him his greatest wish. Iron Man is summoned to Arthur's court, where he finds an unhappy monarch. Arthur mentions the name of his sister, Morgan Le Fey, and Iron Man asks him about her. Arthur obliges, and gives us the readers, a lesson on the legends of Camelot. Using terms such as Merlin and Excalibur, we are told how dangerous and conniving is Arthur's sibling. After this, Iron Man offers to take on Dr. Doom -- he says he's done it in his own time, and he'll do it for Arthur. The king calls him a true champion.
Karen: I love the jet pack! Doom had had it a long time, but was often forgotten by the 70s, so it was cool to see it re-appear here. Regarding Marvel's version of Arthur and Camelot -I'm not sure how much this had been explored by this point. Merlin had appeared a few times, I believe. I recall seeing a version of him in a reprint of Avengers #10 - and perhaps a few other places. But I don't recall much about King Arthur himself in Marvel comics of the 60s-early 80s. Morgana did later on go on to become an Avengers villain. But did Marvel ever publish their own version of the Arthurian myths? I did a little poking around and it looks like Arthur might have shown up in the Marvel UK books frequently.
Doug: Doom acquired a horse to take him the rest of the way to Morgana's castle. Riding up to the drawbridge, which is down and unguarded, Doom suspicions that something might be amiss. Breaking the horn off the saddle, he tosses it out onto the bridge. It passes right through, and falls into the moat -- which is caustic. Doom decides that spells are being used, so uses his jet pack to ascend to an open window in the castle tower. Alighting on the sill, he introduces himself to the witch, who knows that he has come. She has been watching him, but knows not what he seeks. Doom then narrates his story, which has a decidedly Christian bent to it, to my eyes. He claims that his mother was a great sorceress, but died "unconfessed" and was "cursed to an eternity of damnation". Certainly the afterlife takes many different forms in religions around the world, but I found this to be a surprising interjection of beliefs that could certainly be construed as Christian. I'd just never thought of Doom as really any sort of believer outside of a follower of the black arts.
Karen: As I recall, unless they've gone back and retconned it, Doom's mother had sold her soul to Mephisto, who at one time was Marvel's version of Satan. So if you're going to believe in a Satan, you have to believe in God, too. It does come across as a Christian version of the afterlife and considering Doom's background didn't surprise me, although I think the only god he worships is himself. By the way, I'd like to veer off slightly and recommend the "Triumph and Torment" graphic novel that features Doom and Dr. Strange battling Mephisto to save Doom's mother. It's a solid read.
Doug: Morgana agrees to help Doom, but for a price. He must lead an army against her brother, Arthur. She at one time had appropriated Excalibur, and had taken a chip from it. She uses it in an incantation to raise from the dead all who had ever fallen before Arthur's blade. It is this army that Doom shall lead. And as we see the dead raised and armed, our next vision is of the sentry at Camelot, who spies the army advancing. Shouting the alarm, Arthur rallies his warriors, in fear of what may come. And what comes is quite a visual -- Doctor Doom riding hard on a mount, leading an army of near-skeletons. Arthur asks Iron Man if he will assist; Iron Man agrees, and to the death. He flies out ahead of Arthur's legions and asks Doom if there might be some other way. Doom denies him -- and in a wonderful 2-page spread, the war commences!
Karen: The dead knights rising was creepy and cool, and also reminded me of the wonderful Army of Darkness by Sam Raimi, a film that wouldn't come out until 11 years after this comic!
Doug: It's a nice touch to see Arthur leading his own men into battle, as medieval kings often did. Iron Man and Doom tussle, and as their tech tends to cancel each other out, Iron Man gives Doom a blow, which stuns the Latverian. And then Iron Man suddenly realizes that Doom could not have conjured this army of the dead; he can only be leading them. In a ruse of flight, Iron Man takes off toward the castle of Morgana. Doom, figuring he has fled, heads back into the fray. As the Golden Avenger approaches, Morgana assaults him with her magicks, engulfing Iron Man in ribbons of darkness. Iron Man is able to activate his chest light, which dissipates the black light bands. But Morgana has other tricks up her sleeve. She summons a black raptor, and as it flies away from her castle it morphs into some incredible pterodactyl. Iron Man takes it head on, but is not successful. Resorting again to his technology, he pulls a vial of concentrated freon and launches it at the monster. The beast is overcome by the cold, and crashes to earth.
Karen: I can't help but think fewer wars would be fought today if the people who ordered them actually had to go out and fight them. But anyway, back to the story: I found it interesting that Iron Man was so concerned about saving his energy. He's obviously still thinking that he's going to be stuck in the past a very long time. I got a chuckle when, after IM beats the conjured beast, he thinks to himself "I hate magic. I really do." Of course he does! It's outside his comprehension, and that just makes him plain uncomfortable. I would love to see something like this in the Marvel films, where Iron Man has a hard time dealing with say, Thor's hammer, trying to figure out how it works. I would think that would drive him nuts.
Doug: In the recently-deceased Avengers cartoon, wasn't there a running plot in the 1st season about Cap and Tony and technology? Iron Man now makes his way directly into Morgana's chambers. She waits for him, but tells him that although she hates him she cannot conquer that which she doesn't understand. As Iron Man moves toward her, she uses the shard of Excalibur to spirit herself away. And when she does, the army of the dead falls. As Arthur moves toward Doom, Doom immediately realizes how he was undone by Iron Man's departure. Crying out in anger, he launches himself skyward and jets toward Morgana's castle. Bursting an outer wall, he confronts Iron Man -- it is painfully obvious that Doom shall not have any rescue for his mother's soul. He tells Iron Man that he shall be his death -- and then follows that up by saying that his need to be in Camelot is passed. Yet the only way the two combatants can return to the 20th Century is if they work... together. Iron Man is skeptical, but Doom gives him his word of trust.
Karen: Doom is nothing if not practical. He realizes Morgana is no longer a viable source of help, so he's got to put aside his distaste for "the lackey" and work with him to get home. It's fun seeing Iron Man try to figure out whether he can trust Doom -but then again, this was back before Doom began doing nutty stuff like making armor out of the skin of his ex-girlfriends. You know, back when he could be a villain, yet still retain some honor.
Doug: Both men agree to power down their armors. It's a great face-to-face scene; as we said last week, the JR JR/Layton team is really pretty spectacular throughout this storyline. The pages that follow show Iron Man and Doom literally taking their armors apart, using components to craft a device that will allow them to bridge the time stream. When the construct is finished, the two men grasp its ends, activate it, and indeed fly again through time and space, landing once more in the Balkans. The device is nothing but slag. Doom and Iron Man agree that the time for fighting is past; but the future will hold no altruistic feelings toward each other. And they part.
Karen: Both men think with respect about the capabilities of the other. Doom thinks that if one of Stark's employees' is so smart, "He himself must be a genius!" I still can't believe that Doom wouldn't have figured out that Stark and Iron Man were one and the same, but I guess we just have to accept that cliche. For his part, Stark thinks that only Reed Richards has shown such a natural understanding of electronics. So high praise indeed from both.
Doug: As I'd said last week, I really don't have any sort of experience with Iron Man's solo adventures much past what we've reviewed here on the BAB. I really, really like this Michelinie/Layton/ Romita run and look forward to seeing more of it in the future. It's a real high point for the latter Bronze Age.
Karen: This was truly a lot of fun to review, and I think we should plan on doing some more Iron Man reviews next year. It's just a fabulous combo of story and art.